By Esther Nzuki, Edith Mutui, Jean Claude Rubyogo 

According to the 2023 Outcome Impact Case Report, the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) has facilitated the release of over 650 new bean varieties, in 31 African countries, which have reached more than 42.7 million farmers (58% of whom are women), thus significantly improving nutrition, health, food security and economic status. More than 275,000 school-age children (51% girls) in Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and Zimbabwe now regularly enjoy high-iron beans in school feeding programs. In addition, more than 5 million households in 10 African countries have seen a 30% increase in household income.  

(PABRA) has focused on the right bottlenecks and has been able to respond to the increasing demand for improved nutrition. For over 26 years, they have gained worldwide recognition for their work in Africa, attracting different partners across governments, research institutions, and public and private sector partners helping develop and disseminate nutrient-rich bean varieties. 

“A few of the key lessons PABRA and its NARS members have gained over time is to focus on the whole bean value chain to deliver multiple impacts. Implementing demand-led breeding in the bean corridors has generated farmer and consumer-demanded varieties. We highly appreciate the complementary funding from multi-lateral investors, including donors like GAC, ACIAR, BMGF, SDC and USAID, PABRA members’ government, NGOs, and the private sector.” Jean Claude Rubyogo, Bean Programme Leader & Director, PABRA, Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT. 

PABRA in collaboration with the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) hosted Dr. Nikita Ericksen Hamel Deputy Director, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) for Agriculture and Food Security from the Canadian government at the icipe Offices accompanied by Mr. Hanif Pabani and Hellen Oriaro from the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi. The Visit by GAC aimed at strengthening the partnership between GAC and the two organizations PABRA and icipe in implementing the Building Equitable Climate-Resilient African Bean & INsect Sectors (BRAINS)’, an initiative that will be implemented across 15 sub-Saharan African countries, directly benefitting 5 million smallholder farmers, 2.5 million consumers, and school-age children, and a range of value chain actors. 

“Integrated bean, fruit tree, and edible insect economies present a great opportunity for transformative change in Africa. They are effective vehicles to accelerate inclusive climate adaptation outcomes at scale. They can also improve diets, food and nutrition security, and livelihoods for millions of consumers.”  – Juan Lucas Restrepo, Director General, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT. 

Through BRAINS, The Alliance and icipe will collaborate with national agricultural research institutes, through a South-South participatory development approach, to integrate bean, fruit tree systems, and insects for food and feed farming.  

“The BRAINS initiative is an example of the power of partnerships. It will harness the extensive experience, innovations, networks, efficiencies of scale, and broad geographical reach, of The Alliance, through the Pan-African Bean Research Alliance (PABRA); and icipe, into a system-based approach. This strategy will promote value chains and markets that are gender-transformative and resilient to climate change.” – Abdou Tenkouano, icipe Director General.

Transforming Lives and Landscapes in Sub-Saharan Africa through PABRA’s Extensive Network - Image 1

Launch and signing of the agreement of the CAD $20 million grant for the BRAINS initiative on 30 January 2024 at the Bee Health Board room-icipe Campus photo credit: Alliance Bioversity International and CIAT / Esther Nzuki

The key partner in Kenya is the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Organization (KALRO).  Among the varieties released by KALRO through the PABRA partnership in 2017, include three consumer-demanded varieties (Angaza, Nyota, Faida, and Metameta). These high-yielding varieties are micronutrient-rich (high in iron and zinc) and climate-smart (early maturing (65-80 days), drought, diseases, and pest tolerant.  

Mr, David Karanja- KALRO’s National Coordinator for Grains and Legumes shed light on some of the factors that have contributed to releasing some of the PABRA bean varieties like the Nyota and Angaza. 

“The government as a customer wants bean varieties that contribute to farmers’ incomes, offers food and national security, and have a market. In return, the government offers extension services, more partners on board, and improved access or purchase of inputs like certified seeds. On the other hand, we have off-takers, processors, and consumers who want a bean variety that has low flatulence, palatable and quick cooking, tradeable volumes, appealing colour, and a 99.5% purity level.” 

In his presentation, Dr Sunday Ekesi, head, Capacity Building and Integrated Sciences, ICIPE, stated that ICIPE uses the 4-H Themes as an impact pathway. These are Environmental Health, Human Health, Plant Health, and Animal Health integrating at the nexus of One Health. The impact of it is that it has led to reduced poverty, improved human and environmental health, and crop and livestock production, which they have integrated into BRAINS. 

“Edible Insects are useful for circular economy and one health. Beans will complement smallholder farmers’ resilience through enhancing nitrogen fixation and soil enrichment while fruit trees and beekeeping-friendly trees are perennial and drought-tolerant, thus helping to protect landscapes, restore soil function and fertility, and helping in carbon sequestration. Insects form part of the traditional diet of at least 2 billion people and are an excellent alternative protein source, though highly underutilized.”

Transforming Lives and Landscapes in Sub-Saharan Africa through PABRA’s Extensive Network - Image 1

Slides capturing Dr. Nikita Ericksen’s Visit. From boardroom discussions to display of how PABRA and Icipe are scaling up the BRAINS initiative. Photo credit: Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT/Joseline Kiogora

The remarkable impact of climate-resilient, farmers and consumer-preferred high-iron bean varieties on food and nutritional security across Sub-Saharan Africa underscores the vital role of innovative agricultural solutions in addressing complex challenges of climate change, food security, and nutrition while creating business opportunities for smallholder women farmers and traders. The collaborative efforts of PABRA and its partners, including national governmental research institutions, and international donors like the Government of Canada, have empowered millions of households and school children with improved nutrition and increased incomes.  

“PABRA’s impact on smallholders and local businesses demonstrates how long-term and focused dynamic research support is essential to transform entire value chains.  Spanning from genetics to market/value chains, inclusive business practices that foster supportive investments, and catalyzing complementary investments, PABRA provides a lot of learning for other commodities.  BRAINS which bring PABRA and icipe together is a great opportunity to use PABRA’s extensive networks to increase biodiversity, improve farmers’ livelihood and business, and increase resilience to climate change. Dr. Nikita Ericksen-Hamel Deputy Director GAC   

Building Equitable Climate-Resilient African Bean & INsect Sectors (BRAINS) is an initiative of the PABRA-ICIPE partnership funded by the Government of Canada. The main aim is to develop low-carbon, climate-resilient systems, that are favorable to women and the youth, using bean, and fruit trees, and beneficial insect farming and business enterprises.